A New Definition of Advisors’ Value-Add

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Prognostications about the future of the investment advisory business suffer from the fate of all predictions: None of us can reliably predict the future. Well-reasoned opinions range from “doom and gloom” to very optimistic.

Ultimately, this is clear: Firms that demonstrate “value” will always have clients willing to pay a fee reasonably related to that value. It may not matter whether it is a flat or AUM-based fee. But it remains my view that the AUM-based fee has a troubled future.

The changing concept of “value”

When I started as an advisor, “value” was premised on the ability to put together an appropriate portfolio. The standard fee was 1% of AUM.

DIY investors can now put together a globally diversified portfolio with each of the six major asset classes for less than 0.06% a year. According to Matt Hougan, who assembled that data, “The portfolio provides exposure to more than 4,600 stocks in 47 different countries, over 3,100 bonds, dozens of currencies and 22 different commodities.”

“Value” for most firms is no longer defined solely as investment management. Fees will be strongly influenced by the modest cost of implementing a sound investment strategy without using any advisor, and the lower fees charged by robo advisors (both online and hybrid).

The new definition of “value”

A recent article in The New York Times profiled Creative Planning, a $26 billion investment advisory firm based in Leawood, Kansas. The article extolled the firm for providing totally objective, non-conflicted advice.